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Silver medal takes a little of the sting away after Canadian divers’ rough start

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Jennifer Abel, Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu
Canada's Jennifer Abel, front, and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu perform in the women's 3m synchro springboard final Wednesday at the Commonwealth Games. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

GOLD COAST, Australia — After a rocky start to the Commonwealth Games diving competition Wednesday, Canada stepped up to the medal podium.

Flag-bearer Meaghan Benfeito and teenage partner Caeli McKay steadied the ship with a silver medal in the women’s 10-metre synchronized event after a botched dive dropped Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu out of medal contention in the 3-metre synchro final.

“We had a really shaky start as you might have noticed,” said Mitch Geller, Diving Canada’s chief technical officer. “That was a real hard one and a bit of a shock for all of us.

“But we also know that there are no guarantees in this sport, that’s for sure.”

Abel and Citrini-Beaulieu had won silver in the same event at the 2017 FINA World Championships last summer in Budapest. And they led after three dives Wednesday

But it fell apart on the fourth when Abel lost position on a forward 3 1/2 somersault dive from the pike position, the duo’s most difficult dive of the day. The 26-year-old from Laval, Que., all but jackknifed into the pool with her hands just beating her feet to the water.

“A big technical mistake,” said Abel, who won the event in 2010 and took silver in 2014, albeit with a different partner.

Rubbing salt into the wound, technical delays meant the duo had to sit poolside for what seemed like an eternity before they got a set of most unwelcome marks.

Australia’s Esther Qin and Georgia Sheehan rode a terrific final dive to grab gold with 284.10 points, ahead of England’s Alicia Blagg and Katherine Torrance (276.90) and Malaysia’s Mun Yee Leong and Nur Dhabitah Sabri (264.90).

The Canadian pair finished with 246.78 points.

Benfeito, a 29-year-old from Montreal, and McKay, an 18-year-old from Calgary, had no such missteps. They moved from fourth to second as the evening wore on with a polished steady performance.

“We came into the event and we really wanted to have fun … When we have fun, that’s when we dive well,” said Benfeito.

McKay, in her first multisport games, acknowledged some nerves although they didn’t show.

“I think we help each other kind of loosen up and relax and understand we know what we’re doing,” McKay said. “And we’re in it all together.”

Asked about her young partner, a smiling Benfeito said: “She did better than me today.”

Jun Hoong Cheong and Pandelela Rinong Pamg won the gold with 328.08 points with fellow Malaysians Leong and Sabri taking bronze with 308.16. The Canadians finished at 312.12.

Benfeito won the event in 2014 with the now retired Roseline Filion. She also won the individual 10-metre event in the Glasgow games and a bronze in the 10-metre synchro in 2006.

The evening competition went smoothly, in stark contrast to the windy, glitch-filled lunchtime session at the outdoor Optus Aquatic Centre. South African diver Nicole Gillis slipped on the stairs leading to the springboard, competing only after a bandage was quickly applied to a damaged big toe.

The first day of the diving competition was also delayed by technical issues, which briefly forced the judges to go old-school and hold up signs indicating their marks during the 3-metre synchro springboard. It was blamed on a keypad issue affecting one judge.

Australian Maddison Keeney, who finished last with partner Anabelle Smith after a botched final dive received zero points from the judges, fought back tears after the event.

“It was just kind of stress on top of stress that we don’t need,” Keeney said of the technical complications.

“It was a lot of distraction,” echoed the 22-year-old Citrini-Beaulieu, a native of St-Constant, Que., who is competing at her first multisport games. “Diving outside, the crowd, the waiting, the sun, the wind. Everything was kind of new for me.”

But she saw positives.

“We’re a great team and we have good chemistry,” she said. “I don’t doubt this. It was just a bad day.”

Abel, a three-time Olympian, also chose to look at the promise of the first three dives rather than complain about the conditions.

Geller said he expected a different Abel to show up for her individual event. Abel, one of the team veterans, also got support from Benfeito.

“It was a hard morning but Jen and Mel are a very strong team … That doesn’t define who they are. They’re capable of winning medals. They were capable of winning the event.”

Four years ago at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Canada won seven diving medals (3-2-2) to finish behind England’s 10 (4-3-3). The Canadian women accounted for six of those with Abel leading with a gold and two silver.

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